Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Golden Opportunities

Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6.31)

An Idea Worth Spreading

TED—an acronym for technology, entertainment, and design—is a non-profit organization devoted to “ideas worth spreading.” As its name indicates, TED began as an institute for mass media moguls and artists and quickly received notice for its elite annual conference and "TEDtalks" lecture series. But it soon became apparent the interests and ideals of TED’s primary (and secondary) audience reached far beyond the arenas it first identified. Five years ago the institute inaugurated the TED Prize, three annual $100,000 grants to thought leaders who then reveal his/her “wish to change to the world” at the next year’s conference. Past Prizewinners include Bono (2005), Bill Clinton (2007), and in 2008, Karen Armstrong, a former Catholic nun, historian, and progressive theologian. She defined her wish thusly:

I wish that you would help with the creation, launch and propagation of a Charter for Compassion, crafted by a group of leading inspirational thinkers from the three Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christian and Islam and based on the fundamental principles of universal justice and respect.

Apropos of TED’s constituents, Armstrong frames her wish in lofty language. In a subsequent TEDtalk (posted below), however, she breaks it down to its essence. Every “great world religion”—including those not based in “Abrahamic traditions”—shares one core value: moral reciprocity, i.e., The Golden Rule. Not only does Armstrong make a credible case that doing to others as we would have them do to us is an idea worth spreading. By the time she finishes her talk, she removes all doubt if each of us seizes and acts upon it, we can change the world.

Good News Is Not News Until We Make News

The Golden Rule is no news. Global pervasiveness and millennial perpetuity make its validity a foregone conclusion. As Christians, we embrace it as good news, the Gospel epitomized in Christ’s life and lessons. While we typically quote Luke 6.31’s more concise rendering of The Golden Rule, in Matthew 7.12, Jesus couches it in the same language He uses with His Great Commandments: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Since Jesus is the embodiment of the Law and Prophets, obedience to The Golden Rule is the key to conforming to His instruction and example. It’s not an idealistic goal or a soft-pedaled suggestion. It’s a rule—a must-do, not a should-do.

Armstrong’s clarion-call to return to Christ’s doctrine of “justice and respect” (or, love and tolerance) stresses the Rule’s one aspect we conveniently overlook: good news is not news until we make news. The revelation of God in Jesus and our reconciliation to God were never intended to stop with each believer’s personal beliefs. Faith in Christ changes us to enable us to change the world. We’re supposed to make news, to obtain notoriety as people of fearless compassion, forgiveness, and acceptance. Obedience to the Rule is the glue that holds the Gospel together and the energy that keeps it alive. We’re expected to command the spotlight, not as superstar do-gooders, but as dazzling reflections of God’s luminosity. In Matthew 5.16, Jesus tells us: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” We draw light by emitting light and then deflecting it, taking no glory for us to direct all of it toward our Father. That’s the Rule’s ultimate goal.

In Everything

It’s enlightening to realize The Golden Rule has been on the books long before Jesus preaches it. Written circa 500 BCE, Leviticus 19.34 reads: “The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself.” Roughly 100 years before Christ, the Talmudic scholar Hillel writes: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.” In The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions (2006), Armstrong finds parallel principles emerging in Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism during the same period (900-200 BCE). Thus, Christ’s advocacy of the Rule isn’t original or unique. Yet His teaching of it is nonetheless revolutionary. Before Jesus, the Rule exists as an ethical precept. He transforms it into spiritual expression. It transcends individual morality to reveal the present nature of God through human personification of His love and mercy.

In everything,” Jesus says in Matthew 7.12, short-circuiting any justification for selective application of justice and respect. He distills obedience to the Rule as constant analysis of every moment—a sort of preemptively reversed quid pro quo. Whatever we ask, that’s what we do. Do we want others to care for us? Then we care for them. Do we desire unconditional acceptance from those who reject us? Then we accept them as they are. (Glance back at Leviticus.) Do we ask forgiveness for our mistakes? Then we forgive those who withhold forgiveness. Living the Rule fills every minute of our lives with golden opportunities. It changes our lives, the lives we touch, and the world we live in.

(Hat-tip to Cuboid Master for the Armstrong inspiration.)

Living the Golden Rule requires constant analysis of every moment in life. Whatever we ask, that’s what we do.

(Tomorrow: Out of There)

Postscript: Armstrong

Searching youtube for Armstrong’s TEDtalk turned up a second video produced by her initiative, The Charter for Compassion, and left me in a quandary about which to post here. I finally decided to go with both, offering an option depending on the time each reader has. The Charter piece is shorter, slicker, and truly moving. The TED piece is longer, more informative, and by far more fascinating. You decide—but if I were you, I’d probably want to watch both…

The Charter for Compassion

The TEDtalk


Gary Lewis said...

I didn't need the auxiliary video.

I treat everyone I meet as an equal, until they do something so completely stupid by my terms, that I should either call them out as being stupid, or understanding their issues, and helping not look so stupid to others.

I was amused by a recent Facebook application that rounded up my stats. By the number, I had 50% Republican friends, and obviously, the other half were Democratic friends.

My first thought was it was a daft stat and could not be true. My second thought was that maybe I, as I think Jesus would also appreciate, love my friends for being friends, and can negotiate the ills or benefits of their political choices after the big football game or BBQ cookoff.

Putting anyone into a pocket without hearing both sides is always a danger. Even the weakest of arguments on any point may "hold water." The open mind is the key to seeing everything contributors and detractors have to offer.

Tim said...

"The open mind is the key to seeing everything contributors and detractors have to offer."

Gary, I believe an open mind is essential to activating The Golden Rule. When we're on the receiving end ("contributors"), we learn from their example. On the giving end ("detractors"), we learn by the example of their mistakes.

How many times in our lives do we look at another and say, "There but for the grace of God go I?"--and then, somewhere along the way, lose our bearings and head in the same direction? Tolerance and forgiveness are not only beneficial for those we offer it. They're instructive to us.

Thank you for this. It adds much-appreciated dimension to the topic!


PS: I saw that FB gizmo and thought about trying it, but pulled back, thinking if the percentages didn't come out like I imagined, I'd be wondering which of my friends threw them off. (And how does it scan FB info and come up with the results? Sounded fishy to me...)

Fran said...

I have actually seen both of these videos. Karen Armstrong is a favorite of mine and I love so many of the TED talks.

The utter simplicity of treating others as one wishes to be treated is lost in our consumer society.

Tim said...

Fran, you're so right. I'm not sure when it went missing, but it seems to have got much worse after all the 80-90's baloney about "customer delight." A sense of entitlement crept in--instead of me serving you, I wait for you to serve me. It's completely backwards. Couple that with the basic MEMEMEME struggle and human acquisitiveness and it's a toxic cocktail.

I imagined you'd be hip to Armstrong. She's a favorite of mine, too. Just ordered her latest, The Case for God--can't wait for it!

Blessings my sister,

James said...

This was a good article, Tim. Thanks for your thoughts.

Cuboid Master said...

Karen Armstrong is a beautiful soul! It always brings me happiness knowing there are countless loving souls among us. It is easy to be sucked into believing the media portrays reality thus the world is a dark and frightening place. There is hope in all of us.

All the world's major religions have the Golden Rule stated in some form within their holy texts. Yet, this deceptively simple rule is apparently the hardest to follow, as evidenced by wars and ongoing strife. I mean, is God trying to tell us something, LOL?

I love how you added from Matthew 7.12, "in everything," as this is the key. Following the Golden Rule is indeed a spiritual expression of our love for God and His Son, a "human personification" of His love. I must work harder at it.

Tim said...

James, thank you. Sometimes stopping to realign our hearts with the basics makes more sense than delving into lesser explored areas (which ultimately bounce back to the basics, anyway).

And CM, you nail why it's essential to stay reminded of the Rule--because we all must work harder at it. There's a great spiritual about Christian faith that says, "It's so high you can't get over it, so low you can't get under it, so wide you can't get around it. You must come in at the door." The Golden Rule is ground truth, which often fools us by being more difficult to live by than we expect. But we must come in at the door.

Thank you both for your encouragement and thoughts.

Blessings always,

Annette said...

Wow. What else is there to say, except that this "novel" thought gives us the power--right now--to really change the world.

I'm grateful that Jesus Christ gave us this simple way to return to our God.

Thank you Tim.

Tim said...

"Right now"--beautifully put, Annette. There's no "we could change the world if." It's "we will change the world when..."

What a good and perfect gift we've been given!

Thanks as always. It's ever a joy to hear from you!